Coronavirus | Despite U.P. CM’s appeal, migrant workers throng Lucknow’s bus stands

Without work or money, they see little point in staying put.

Updated - March 29, 2020 12:42 am IST

Published - March 29, 2020 12:41 am IST - LUCKNOW

Distant dream: Physical distancing norms go for a toss at the Charbagh bus station in Lucknow. Photo: Special Arrangement

Distant dream: Physical distancing norms go for a toss at the Charbagh bus station in Lucknow. Photo: Special Arrangement

Do din ho gaye khana nahi mila abhi (it’s two days since we have got proper food),” said Neeraj Yadav as he trudged along a deserted street, hefting his meagre belongings.

With a small group of friends, Mr. Yadav is heading towards the Qaiserbagh bus station in the heart of Lucknow, hoping for transport back home.

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A mason, Mr. Yadav had arrived in Lucknow from the Terai district of Lakhimpur Kheri two weeks ago, hired by a contractor to work at a site near the airport.

Abandoned

However, after the nationwide lockdown was announced to check the spread of the novel coronavirus on March 24, the contractor shut down the business, leaving the labourers stranded, without work or food.

Apprehensive that the lockdown would be extended beyond 21 days, the construction workers decided to head home after the government announced that special buses would be run on Saturday.

“What will we do sitting here when we don’t get food or water,” asked Mr. Yadav, who has walked 20 km to reach the bus station, surviving on the biscuits and water offered by some residents and the police on the way.

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The appeal by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Friday, that migrant labourers should stay on wherever they are rather than trying to return home, was met with little enthusiasm from the workers.

“Had we got basic facilities here, why would we not stay back,” remarked Ravindra Yadav. “After all we had come all the way to work.”

At the Qaiserbagh and Charbagh bus stations, workers were seen frantically boarding the State transport busesto return to their home towns. As the large groups thronged the crowded bus station trying to find the right bus, the protocol of physical distancing ended up getting short shrift. Many had to wait for several hours to find the right vehicle.

Long march, long wait

Ram Prakash, a labourer from Gonda, reached the bus station on Friday evening but had to return as he was told no bus would ply towards his home. He returned on Saturday morning but was still waiting to board a bus at 1 p.m. “I have been waiting here without food since 7 a.m.,” he said, adding that he had only eaten some biscuits.

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Mr. Prakash also thought it was impractical for the government to ask labourers to stay at their places of work without any employment or food. Many like him had assumed that things would get back to normal after the janata curfew announced by the Prime Minister for MArch 15. But the subsequent 21-day lockdown left them with no option but to head home.

Jab paisa jeb mein nahi hai toh kya karenge (how will we survive with no money in our pockets),” asked Mr. Prakash.

The struggle was harder for those returning from cities like Delhi and moving towards their villages in Purvanchal and central U.P. Ramu Rawat, a Dalit labourer working in Ghaziabad, had walked with a small group more than 100 km on the highway before they got a lift in a supply truck, which dropped them about 100 km short of Lucknow on the Sitapur road.

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Walking towards the Charbagh bus station to catch a bus to his home in Rae Bareli, Mr. Rawat said the local administration in Ghaziabad had not provided any immediate help to the migrants. The only support they had got was in the form of khichdi served to them by policemen and locals on the highway, he said. “ Na rehne ka jugaad, na khane ka jugaad, sarkar ne kuch nahi diya (the government did not provide us anything, neither food, nor shelter),” he said.

Ram Bhed Biswakarma, who works at a furniture shop in the Rakabganj area of Lucknow, also decided to head back as he had run out of money and had not received any help from the government for five days.

Police monitor

At Charbagh the bus station, U.P. DGP Hitesh Chandra Awasthi, who was personally monitoring the boarding of buses amid precautions, said the police was trying to prevent an accumulation of the travellers at the boarding places and trying to send them off as quickly as possible.

Raj Shekhar, official in-charge of the U.P. State Road Transport Corporation, said about 200 buses were deployed to transport people stuck at various points in the district bordering Delhi to their destinations. The task would continue on Sunday, he said, adding that the details of the buses were being noted down at the starting points.

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It was not officially clear how many buses the government had deployed across U.P. but the State’s publicity team said in a statement that it was using as many as 1,000 vehicles.

Mr. Adityanath had instructed officials to note the names, addresses and phone numbers of the estimated 1 lakh people who had entered U.P. from other States over the last three days. All these people should be kept under surveillance and compulsory quarantine, the government said in a statement quoting the CM.

In another statement, Mr. Adityanath, however, urged workers from U.P. living in other States to stay where they were as travelling during the COVID-19 outbreak could risk the lives of the people in their home districts.

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